THEY’RE ALIVE! One down and one to go. The Atlanta Falcons kept their playoff hope alive and in the process ended the New Orleans Saints’ with a massive 30-14 win at the Superdome Sunday.
“I was really proud of the way our football team came out and performed. They did an outstanding job. Preparation was very good throughout the week. I thought that the coaching staff, offensive, defensive and special teams, did a very good job preparing these guys. We went out and we executed. We did a very good job of putting pressure on the quarterback, probably the best that we have done all season. We had five sacks, two recovered fumbles, and the two picks (interceptions),” said a proud Falcons’ coach Mike Smith.
For the first time all season the Falcons fired on all cylinders on both offense and defense turning quite a number of heads in the process. The Falcons defense forced four turnovers – two interceptions of Drew Brees and two fumbles returning one on the last play of the game 86 yards for a touchdown. The newfound pressure on the quarterback sacked Brees five times. Coming into the game the team only had 16 ½ sacks as a whole. “The ranking that we have in the NFL doesn’t fit our defense. If they put their mind to it and are confident, you’ll see the results you saw out there Sunday. You have to show it each and every week and for the last two weeks,” said Devin Hester on the play of his defense.
Matt Ryan was impressive completing 30-of-40 passes for 322 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers. Devonta Freeman had a coming out party of sorts scoring his first rushing touchdown of his career from 31 yards out in the third quarter to extend Atlanta’s lead to 20-7 at the time. Julio Jones made his presence felt as he hauled in seven passes for 107 yards – all for double-digit gains. “You can’t say enough about what Julio (Jones) did. Obviously he’s been hurting the last couple of weeks and for him to gut it out and play the way he did, I think that speaks volumes about his great toughness but also showcases what a stud he is. When he’s out there, he’s making plays that a lot of other people aren’t capable of making. So, obviously when he’s on the field, that’s a big deal for us,” said Ryan.
But the defense stole the show from the offense with maybe the season defining moment when they converged on Saint tight end Jimmy Graham at the goal line when safety Dezmen Southward hit him now allowing the All-Star to cross the goal line while Kemal Ishmael ripped the ball free and recovered it and advanced it. The Saints and their fans cried that Graham cross the plane of the goal but replay upheld the turnover. Later in the fourth quarter the Saints were trying to get the lead again trailing this time 20-14 with a little over five minutes to play when Robert McClain stepped in front of a Brees pass on the New Orleans’ 13. Atlanta for all intents and purposes put the game out of reach with 1:56 to play on Matt Bryant’s third field goal of the game making the score 23-14. “It was an effort play. I felt it came out clean on the strip, when it popped out. Jimmy Graham is a big guy. Once he caught the ball it was all about effort, and all I tried to do was hold him up and get the ball out,” said Ishmael about the play.
The Saints still tried to make a miracle happen in the final moments as Brees drove the Saints deep in Atlanta’s territory. Brees got the ball down to the Falcons 8 with less than 15 seconds to play. Kroy Biermann sacked Brees knocking the ball loose and Osi Umenyiora scooped up the loose ball and rambled 86 yards for the score as time expired to add insult to injury and make the final 30-14. “To come in here and beat them – I mean the last time we did that was 2010 – and I think before that, it was a very long time when we got the win. Hopefully we can take this feeling into next week,” said Bryant.
Atlanta is still alive for the division title and control their own destiny as they face the only team to stop them Sunday is the Carolina Panthers whom they face in the season finale Sunday at the Georgia Dome. I’m going to love this. I wonder how many sports talking heads are going to explode after Sunday’s game after they’ve been calling for Mike Smith’s head all season. Sure the winner of the NFC South will have a sub .500 record but that doesn’t mean they or the play in the division is bad. Sometimes teams with gaudy records are a lot worse. Remember, the Falcons’ only win outside of the division was over Arizona who at the time had the best record in the league at the time and ironically may end up back in the Georgia Dome as a wild card team in the first week of the playoffs sporting a third-string quarterback this time. All I can say now is Atlanta’s defense is starting to gel and peak at the right time. Remember – the Broncos and Giants had 9-7 regular season records the year they won it all and the Titans were 9-7 the year of their only Super Bowl appearance.
The Falcons broke a lot of hearts and records with the win. The Falcons swept the season series for the first time in the Mike Smith era as head coach. It was also the first season sweep since 2005, the season of Katrina and one year before the Brees era started in New Orleans. Ryan continued his streak of passing for over 200 yards in road games as well and is second in passing yards in his first seven series to only Peyton Manning.
“It’s amazing. Next week, we’re playing one game to get into the dance (playoffs). You can’t ask for anything better than that, and anytime you have a chance like that you have to be prepared and give it your all. We came into this game knowing it was like a playoff game. I mean, you lose and you’re out. For us, the playoffs are already starting. For us, it’s win or go home, basically,” said McClain.
It’s do or die Sunday for the Falcons who host the Carolina Panthers Sunday at the Georgia Dome. Win and they’re in and host a playoff game the next week. Loose and they go home. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:25pm Sunday and will be aired on CBS.
– Dave Weinthal
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